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There is an old stigma around natural oral health care that it won’t really clean your teeth, and it will leave your breath smelling less than fresh. This was true at one point and time.
Thank the heavens for science, right! You can now get pearly whites and minty fresh breath without having to fill your mouth with harsh chemicals and surfactants that can disturb your oral microbiome and etc.
So let’s talk ingredients… our favorite subject on the Clean Beauty Compendium. As always, we start with the most pressing question;
What Should I Avoid in Oral Health Products?
As with all personal care, people have created interesting harmful ingredients to replace natural ones over the years thus allowing companies to create a similar end result for super cheap! Woohoo for profit margins being their only concern!
So let’s talk about some of these bad boys; what are these ingredients, and why should you avoid them.
Sodium Laureth/Lauryl Sulfates
This is an ingredient that you have probably heard a few times by now. It is just a great ingredient to avoid all the way around, but why is it bad for your mouth?
Our mouths need to be moist… again I know that I am stating the obvious, but I am going somewhere with this. I promise.
And if you’ve read even one article about why not to use SLS or any of its other anionic (negatively charged) Sulfate buddies on your face and hair, you will know that it is EXTREMELY drying. Its effect is no different on the skin of your mouth. This results in a downward spiral of increased salivation to attempt to remoisten the buccal cavity (AKA your mouth) and increasing the number of bacteria present, ending in the undesired result of bad breath. Yuck.
Not to mention that it can be easily contaminated with harmful chemicals because the ingredients must be ethoxylated (adding ethylene oxide–rates a 10 on EWG–to create ethoxylates and then ethoxysulfates) to create SLS. SLS is also found to contribute to canker sores.
Triclosan is used in toothpaste to “fight plaque and gingivitis”. However, are you willing to risk future antibiotic resistance or endocrine disruption for healthy teeth, when nature has had a cure for that all along?
In a study by UC Davis, triclosan was found to cause fetal bone malformations in mice and rats. There was also evidence of cell signaling interference in the brain, heart, and lungs. Another study shows links between triclosan and breast cancer.
So if triclosan is so bad, what is the safe alternative? We answer that in a few paragraphs.
If you aren’t going to drink aspartame, why would you brush your teeth with it? You still get all of the same negative health effects from brushing your teeth with it as you do drinking it. Think about all those times you accidentally swallowed your toothpaste. Let’s be honest, it’s happened to the best of us!
What specifically makes aspartame so bad? It’s the methanol that it forms within your body. Your body cannot break it down so it is transported through your blood to areas such as your brain. There it likes to form formaldehyde. If your end goal is embalming your brain, then here is your solution.
Here is another instance where nature provides better alternatives.
Your dentist uses it on you, so you should use it too, right? Not necessarily. For a long time, the dental community has shouted that fluoride is the answer for strong healthy teeth. This was so strongly believed that the U.S. Public Health Service made fluoridation an official policy in 1951 and started adding it to drinking water in 1960. In a CDC (Center for Disease Control) Survey in 2010, a whopping 66% of the US is exposed to fluoridated drinking water.
As research continues, this is found to be less and less true. Fluoride is found to be especially harmful when swallowed because it accumulates in your tissues.
SODIUM FLUORIDE, FLUOROSILICIC ACID, SODIUM FLUOROSILICATE
These are mineral oil derivatives that vary in application from antifreeze to paints. Its main function in oral care is a surfactant.
Again, surfactants are not a necessary part of oral hygiene. On top of that, it is just another version of mineral oil that is a known skin irritant. Nature provides so many better alternatives.
DEA’s main function in products is foam enhancement and is a huge no-no! EWG gives this puppy a 10 for the presence of nitrosating agents (N-nitrosodiethanolamine) when it reacts with other ingredients and the high risk of organ toxicity.
This is a non-essential ingredient and function in oral health products.
Alcohols serve many purposes in personal care products, and not all alcohols are bad. Specially denatured (SD) and sometimes denatured alcohols are extremely common in mouthwash. We all know that alcohol is great at killing off bacteria. It’s also great at drying out skin… similar to SLS.
An added bonus of SD Alcohol is that people have been using it to get drunk for as long as it’s been in existence. The average modern day mouthwash is around 20% alcohol. The average beer has around 5% alcohol. Hmm.. does this seem odd to you too? Especially since SD alcohol is typically mixed with other chemical derivatives to make it “unpalatable” such as thymol, menthol, eucalyptol, and methyl salicylate (from wintergreen oil).
Oh… and there are always those sneaky additives that can be even more dangerous than the carrier itself. Some products also contain unlisted ingredients like methyl alcohol (wood alcohol), which is also found in hand sanitizer.
There is absolutely no need for microbeads, and there is no reason for their inclusion in oral health products other than for marketing leverage.
Microbeads affect your gums the same way they affect the rest of your skin, they exfoliate them leaving behind tiny microtears for bacteria to move into and cause infections or sores. Your mouth has one of the highest cell turnover rates of any of your epithelial surfaces. Why would you exfoliate a surface that renews itself an average of every 10 days?
There isn’t really a natural alternative to this either, nor does there need to be one. Please don’t confuse silica as this. Silica serves many other functions than exfoliation, and silica is an important mineral in the human diet that contributes to oral health.
This is just… NO! Don’t buy a toothpaste with artificial flavor. I’m sorry, but put down the bubblegum toothpaste and opt for something like cinnamon and clove. Natural flavors are not restricted to peppermint, wintergreen, or spearmint anymore.
What Should I Look for in Oral Health Products?
**Something very important to note: SURFACTANTS ARE NOT NECESSARY TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY MOUTH! It is really just a matter of preference.**
Today, gentle oil and plant-based surfactants abound in the formulation world and at a comparable cost to traditional, harsh surfactants. Cocoamidopropyl betaine, sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate, sodium cocosulfate, or decyl glucoside are some common alternatives.
There are also non-surfactant cleansers that get your pearly whites squeaky clean. Some common ones are clay, activated charcoal, cream of tartar, and baking soda AKA sodium bicarbonate.
Natural Plaque and Gingivitis Fighters
Essential oils are extremely potent and several of them are amazing for your oral health without the health risks of triclosan. Do they work as quickly? No. However, they work consistently and without risking your long-term health.
Here is a list of oils you want in your oral care for a clean and happy mouth:
- Tea Tree
Another ingredient garnering attention for its oral health benefits is Green Tea. Green tea extract is a common ingredient in natural oral products. One study found a significant decrease in gingivitis after 28 days of use. Another study compared green tea mouthwash and chlorhexidine mouthwash, showing that there was a significant decrease in bleeding as well as plaque and gingivitis in patients using the green tea mouthwas.
Nature is sweet. Do you add stevia to your coffee or tea? Why not add it to your oral health products?
Stevia is a popular natural sweetener that is easy to recognize on a label, but some other common natural sweeteners that you might not recognize off hand are xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, erythritol, and monk fruit.
If you are worried about your enamel, you are prone to cavities, or you know for a fact that you have enamel hypoplasia ( a hereditary condition that leads to weak enamel), there is evidence that the cocoa extract theobromine is a safe and more potent alternative to fluoride.
Another fluoride alternative for healthy teeth is simply eating a nutrient-dense diet, cutting back on processed sugar consumption, and taking a good multi-vitamin. Remember, enamel is 90% mineral.
Propylene/Butylene Glycol Alternatives
Other oils with antibacterial properties such as coconut oil or babassu oil are ideal alternative ingredients to propylene or butylene glycol, and they contain more nourishing compounds such as magnesium. So if you do accidentally swallow it, it won’t be the worst thing you’ve put in your body all day.
Neem oil is another antibacterial oil that is popular in natural oral health products, and it has a long history of many uses in Ayurvedic treatments.
Natural Alternatives to SD/Denat. Alcohol/Ethanol
Thankfully there are several types of natural mouthwash on the market today with excellent alternative ingredients leaving your mouth just as fresh and clean without uncomfortable stinging.
Hydrogen peroxide is a very popular ingredient in mouthwash. It foams naturally to remove harmful bacteria and oxygenates the gums helping to keep them bright pink and healthy!
And as we mentioned above, green tea is a proven, highly effective mouthwash! It’s also significantly cheaper and easier to get your hands on than most truly natural mouthwash formulations.
Now that You Know
Natural oral health care isn’t just associated with hippies and patchouli oil anymore. It is well-researched, and now it’s widely available for the same price as your favorite tube of Colgate or Crest.
You no longer have to worry about it not being effective enough to freshen your breath or prevent cavities, and you no longer have to worry about what your kids are swallowing all those times they didn’t listen when you told them not to.
And now that you know what you want in your oral care, the challenge of navigating all of the products on the market today begins. But no worries! We’ve got your back and are talking about the best products the rest of the week; everything from toothpaste to oil pulling!